Sunday, August 13, 2006

As Time Goes By

Speaking of firsts, I'm posting drawing #1 from sketchbook #1

Twenty years ago this week I moved to the States to go to grad school; I was twenty-two. I just stumbled upon my old diary, and was reminded of what I did in my first week here.

I spent the first twelve hours staring bug-eyed at MTV, which I’d never seen before; I still remember all the instrumental and vocal parts to Bananarama’s “Venus,” the #1 song in the US that week. My first supermarket experience: disorienting, slightly terrifying. I headed over to the beer section, and being accustomed to tall Indian beers, was a bit puzzled to find them available only in little ‘toy’ cans and bottles. I bought the only two big (‘real’) beers I could find—Schlitz and Colt .45; I haven’t had them since. First great laugh of the week: discovering an invention called the ‘drive-through’; I couldn’t wrap my head around why people needed to be served without even getting out of their cars! I’d have moments of wonder and absurdity like that nearly every single day for the first few years, but I haven’t in a good while. I can—alas—no longer distinguish between the surreal and the real in America.

I arrived here quite broke, having blown all my savings on the air passage. I paid a visit to Goodwill for: a new set of old clothes; two American dictionaries, one regular and one slang; a warped-neck ten-dollar guitar that cost half that much to string and only stayed in tune over a three-fret span; and a small stack of vinyl for a quarter apiece.

I shared an off-campus apartment with three other Indian students. I made $600 a month on my assistantship and paid $100 in rent. My needs were few; we lived like princes. At the end of the year, our slumlord gypped us out of our security deposit and we took him to small claims court. We had no idea how to go about preparing for the ordeal—this money was a fairly big chunk of change for us—so we made a ritual of watching People’s Court together after dinner for a month to ‘learn the ropes’: how to dress and present ourselves, when to speak, what to say.

The day of the hearing, we splurged for a cab to the courthouse. When the judge entered, and we all stood up, one of my housemates leaned over and whispered with a touch of panic in his voice, “But he doesn’t look anything like Wapner!” Our landlord never showed. We were awarded the judgment by default, but we never saw a nickel: he had filed for bankruptcy; it turned out there were dozens of other student tenants in the same boat.

* * *

More reminiscing: In a couple of weeks, it’ll be two years since the inception of this blog. My first impulse at the time was two-fold: the amateur musician and music-geek in me wanted to start a music-blog; and having just bought a scanner, the blog would be a convenient way to post drawings from my sketchbooks. But because the timing coincided with the Toronto filmfest, I began by posting film reviews from there, and soon I was (happily) helming a filmblog. I think I’ve posted at least once a week continuously since then except for the three-month hiatus when I hurt my hands.

For me, the best thing about the blog has been the ability to meet and interact with a rich cinephile community and be able to share with and learn from them about cinema. To be honest, I think I’ve been a little reluctant to post about music, indie comics, etc., because I don’t want to kill the cinema discussions which seem to sprout so healthily in the comments here. But I also realize that this is silly of me—I suspect readers will continue to treat this place as a sort of unofficial cinephile forum as they’ve been doing so far, and post ideas and links that are of interest to them here. At any rate, I encourage you, dear reader, to do that. So, one of my new resolutions is to roam culturally farther afield in my posts than I’ve done so far, even if the lion’s share of posts will likely still remain cinema-related.

* * *

A great big Thank You to the 35 or so bloggers who were part of the Avant-Garde Blog-A-Thon! The reader traffic for this event turned out to be unexpectedly huge, three to four times that for Showgirls back in January. I spent the last ten days reading and learning and marveling at the blogosphere, the only place where such a flexible and dynamic exchange of critical thought might have been possible. We’re smack dab in the middle of the new cinephile/film-crit picture; let’s make the most of it by sharing, learning, teaching, helping each other. And have ourselves some fun doing it.


Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Congratulations on two years. Yours was one of the several blogs I "studied" before I launched my own. What has been most impressive has been the number of comments following most of your postings, sort of a virtual hang-out for cineastes and others to exchange views.

August 13, 2006 8:01 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"sort of a virtual hang-out for cineastes and others to exchange views."

Peter, it's funny: thinking back, both the home where I grew up in and every dorm room I ever lived in turned into hang-outs for shooting the breeze, breaking out the musical instruments and general chilling. Perhaps it's the Easterner in me that really values community. Or maybe it's a personality thing; I don't know.

August 13, 2006 8:14 PM  
Anonymous jmac said...

OMG, I loved these stories, G. Especially the drive-thru and the People's Court. So funny. You are lucky to have a perspective on these things! I'm also really impressed that you've been writing on your blog for two years. It is a wonderful blog, and it reflects all that you've experienced . . .

August 13, 2006 9:23 PM  
Anonymous The Cinesthete said...

I feel exactly the same way Peter did. After reading blogs online for awhile, I always found myself coming back to yours. It has been a real inspiration in me starting mine.

Your posts are very insightful and the discussions are always great. Congrats on the two years and I hope to see many more.

August 13, 2006 9:35 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"I'm also really impressed that you've been writing on your blog for two years."

J. ~ You and I are babies; Acquarello's been doing this for nine years and Darren for seven! They're seasoned pros. We should all be huddling around a campfire hearing 'em tell about the days of the old-skool Nets.

August 13, 2006 9:36 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Nice moniker, Cinesthete, and thank you!

August 13, 2006 9:37 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Girish, thanks for sharing the wonderful reminiscences, on top of the two years of film and other insight you've been generous enough to share with us all!

I look forward to reading more posts on film and indie comics and music and whatever else you find interesting on a particular day.

I'd also love to know if you still have any of the platters that made up that small stack of Goodwill vinyl.

August 13, 2006 10:18 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Congrats on two years, Girish. Your site is a sort of home away from home for readers and fellow cinephiles -- always a great place to visit and converse. I encourage you to travel further afield in your posts; that's part of the thrill and freedom of blogging (though if you maintained primarily film-related content, that's fine too -- I know that I enjoy whatever you write). Great stories about your arrival to the U.S., by the way.

August 13, 2006 10:24 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"I'd also love to know if you still have any of the platters that made up that small stack of Goodwill vinyl."

Brian, you read my mind.
Sentimental sap that I am, I've got that stack right here in my living room. In fact, I'm doing an mp3 blog entry mid-week from my favorite LP of the lot...

"I encourage you to travel further afield in your posts."

Michael, I can tell you I'm itching to; I've got some ideas. Since the new academic year is starting up soon, I've got teaching on the brain, and may do some teaching/pedagogy-related posts as well. I hardly ever mention my work here at the blog, but it's something I'd like to slowly bring into the purview of my blog-world...

August 13, 2006 10:57 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Meanwhile, the conversation about a possible 'blog-a-thon that dare not speak its name' rages on in the comments to the previous post.

August 13, 2006 11:13 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

I like your posts (on any topic), but the community here is a big draw too. I'm consistently amazed at the number of comments, thoughtfulness, and generosity on display.

August 14, 2006 12:26 AM  
Blogger Dipanjan said...

It is that time of the year again? Ninth anniversary for me and it is incredible how quickly time flies. Wonderful description of the slow transition from wide-eyed whats and whys and living princely on 800 dollars a month - eleven years of inflation resulted in a 200 dollar raise - to nothing-surprises-me-anymore stoicism.

Congratulations on two years of blogging. No matter how many interesting blogs and how little time I find, yours is always a must-read.

August 14, 2006 1:21 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Tuwa, I'm amazed by the generosity and thoughtfulness on display too. And to think--and this shows you how brilliant I am--that I didn't even turn on comments for the first year or so. What the hell was I thinking?

Dipanjan, I bet there is a huge overlap of experiences for us Indian grad-student emigres to the US. Especially first-year experiences...

August 14, 2006 8:26 AM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Congratulations on years two & twenty, Girish. Yours is a unique and irreplaceable beacon in the blogosphere. As for topical branching-out, I'm all for it ...

August 14, 2006 8:56 AM  
Anonymous Darren said...

Girish, my main "client" in my web development job is the university's Center for International Education. On Saturday Joanna and I are going to tag along on their start-of-the-semester outing, which also serves as a welcome to all of the new international students and scholars. I'll keep your stories in mind as we picnic and explore the Museum of Appalachia. :)

August 14, 2006 8:59 AM  
Blogger Momo said...

Great stories, Girish :-D - as someone who likewise moved halfway across the world I share all the initial confusion, the disorientation.....

Ditto Tuwa on the community here - I have been blogging on and off for a couple of years, but, thanks to you, am only now discovering the wonderful film bloggers who hang out here...... how much I have missed!

Like everybody here, I love your posts, whatever the topic - keep 'em coming! :-D

August 14, 2006 9:24 AM  
Blogger acquarello said...

American civics lesson 101: there is no higher authority than Wapner! :)

August 14, 2006 9:32 AM  
Anonymous David Hudson said...

Congrats, Girish, and I, too, look forward to seeing where you'll be taking your superb blog.

August 14, 2006 9:39 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Zach, Darren, Jenna, Acquarello, David ~ Thank you. Always a pleasure to hear from you all.

August 14, 2006 10:22 AM  
Blogger That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Nice post. And write what you feel, Girish. I find that whenever I write about music, I get few responses, but who cares? You can't put out a blog for anybody's pleasure but your own, or what's the point of the borderline-insane amount of time we spend with these things?

August 14, 2006 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Girish --

Congrats on the two year anniversary. As you know, yours was one of the first film blogs I began reading regularly, and I'm glad you've lasted this long.

I'm determined to dig up our first email exchange -- I can't recall what was said.

I think it's wonderful how your site has become the online cafe for the cineaste crowd. A virtual nouvelle vague where you play Langlois to a group of digital Rivettes, Godards, Chabrols, Truffauts, etc. (Though I wonder how many will make the leap from criticism to filmmaking as they did.) I think we need a name for the collective, though I can't think of one. . .

August 14, 2006 11:50 AM  
Anonymous Thom said...

Congrats on two years in the blogoshpere, Girish. I’m a comparative newcomer to this cinephile tradition yet you made me feel right at home (that goes for the rest of you mugs, too). Post whatever you want 'cause we'll be here.

August 14, 2006 12:17 PM  
Blogger David said...

The Newer Wave!

Congrats, Girish. It's a hell of a lot of fun.

August 14, 2006 12:30 PM  
Blogger andyhorbal said...

Funny you should say that, Filmbrain: I was just reading this article about Kim Jong-Il's latest filmmaking effort. He is, apparently, a critic in that mold...

Congrats on two years, Girish! One wonders what this place will look like in another decade or so after this bunch has an Oscar and a Pulitzer or two to its credit...

August 14, 2006 12:44 PM  
Blogger Alok said...

Hi Girish, It was great to learn of your experiences of coming here for the first time. It is also remarkable to see how much India has changed in the last 10-15 years. I was just trying to compare it with my experience when I came here early last year, it wasn't as dramatic as you recount :)

I have been a regular reader of your blog and the comment section and I have learned a lot from these exchanges. I generally refrain from commenting for fear of making myself a fool in the company of such experts :)

please carry on with your writings!!

August 14, 2006 1:15 PM  
Blogger girish said...

TLRHB--I'm coming around to seeing things exactly that way myself...

Filmbrain--I think I first wrote you a "blogger-fan-email" soon after your post on the Kubrick shorts, before I had a blog. It seems like we've known each other for ages but it's been just two years...

Thom, David, and Andy ~ Thanks very much, amigos!

Alok ~ We're just cinephiles here, nothing more...You're always welcome to comment here, and you should feel free to do so...

August 14, 2006 1:44 PM  
Blogger Marina said...

Congratulations, Girish! You know, two more years and you'll be literally half-America/half-India. That would be fascinating! Anniversaries are always fascinating...:)

Since I discovered your blog, I've been reading and re-reading it constantly. For me, its most valuable ingredient is the sincerity. Every post and every comment is so honest, carrying the genuine love of cinema (oh, and jazz!:-)). That's what creates a community and you've managed to do it unconsciously.

Great work!

August 14, 2006 2:49 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Bon Anniversaire! (Happy Birthday)
And thanks for switching on comments ;)

You're the boss Girish! I admire how your blog has successfuly evolved in the past year, to become a thriving online Cine-Club, welcoming, multicultural and multifaced.

August 14, 2006 5:16 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Marina and Harry ~ Merci. Vous êtes très aimable!

"And thanks for switching on comments."

I think Acquarello was my first-ever commenter, saying something like: "Well, Girish, it's about damn time!" :-)

August 14, 2006 6:05 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Fooh, I'm not going to congratulate you on your two years, girish, 'cuz you're going to be around for twenty more. This is only the beginning.

Nevertheless, huzzahs on the happiness.

August 15, 2006 2:24 AM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Congratulations on the two years, Girish. Your blog is a precious space for cinephiles everywhere, and it's great to see it grow. I just wish I'd discovered it sooner than when I did!

August 15, 2006 2:46 AM  
Blogger aaron w graham said...

I'm a relative newcomer to your space on the web, Girish, but I recall being immediately entranced by the films you chose to bring up and the good-natured cinephilia camaraderie that is your comments section. I'm certain this will continue no matter what cultural topic(s) you plan to bring up in the future.

Congrats on anniversary numero deux!

August 15, 2006 7:28 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

I truly enjoyed your reminisces, Girish, and your first drawing. I've kept journals since I was 15 and have been thinking about starting a second blog called THEN, posting on what was happening in my life and in my beloved San Francisco 25 years ago. I love the perspective that longbody stretching provides.

August 15, 2006 11:45 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Noel ~ I just had to do an uncontrollable spit-take when I read that!

Mubarak & Aaron ~ You know the one event in the blogosphere I'm most thankful for? Showgirls. Coz that's how I met both of you, Zach, Eric, Dennis, and so many other bloggers I didn't know about. (Aaron, I discovered your blog through Eric's.)

Michael ~ That's a great idea about starting up your new blog. Could you send me a link or post one here when you do? I'd love to keep up with it.

August 15, 2006 5:55 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Before you click on or hover over this link, I want you to take ten seconds and try to guess in your mind which filmblogger is pregnant.

Okay, go.

August 15, 2006 6:23 PM  
Blogger girish said...

By the way, bloggers are in the news at De Palma A La Mod.

August 15, 2006 7:28 PM  
Anonymous Peet said...

Congratulations on your blog's second Anniversary, Girish. By all means, write about whatever you feel like! I enjoyed reading a little bit of your personal history here, and because music is part of mine, the posts where you wrote about that particular topic are among my favorites! (Loved that post about The Fabulous Baker Boys.)

August 16, 2006 6:32 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey thanks so much for the wishes, Peet.

A few links:
--Did you know Acquarello was a "hardcore" fan? Here's an mp3 post..
--Zach on Godard.
--Peter on Preminger.

A piece of trivia of interest to no one else but me: I just did a "vanity Technorati search" to see if this blog was on other blogrolls, and came up with a handful that list it as, um, "girlish."

August 16, 2006 7:29 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Great big Bollywood/YouTube post at Mubarak's.

August 16, 2006 8:31 AM  
Blogger girish said...

See, the only problem with unexpectedly getting linked by all these blogosphere bigwigs (James Wolcott, 2 Blowhards, Arts Journal: About Last Night) is that if I knew they were going to do that, I'd have spent a lot more time on the posts.

Oh well. Looking forward: off to Canada to see a couple of movies today, last time before classes start back up in less than two weeks. I'll try to do up a new post by Friday if I can. (Thank goodness for blogging--without the discipline it imposes, I wouldn't do squat.)

August 16, 2006 10:05 AM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

girish, off topic here: are you familiar with the Indian musical Mughal E Azam, and were you aware that it was being colorized? I'm surprised the news hasn't caused much of a stink in international film circles, but no it hasn't. Frankly, the idea of a colorized Mughal makes me nauseous.

August 17, 2006 3:08 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Noel, I hadn't heard that--outrageous. I found this one dubiously positive review (cripes) of the colorized version.

--Michael at Culturespace on Miami Vice.
--More Zach on Godard, plus comment by Andy Rector.

I haven't updated my blogroll in a long while but in the aftermath of the a-g blog-a-thon, in which we all discovered several blogs we didn't know about, I've been gradually doing that. (Also just added Andy R's blog, Kinoslang.)

August 17, 2006 9:18 AM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

FYI - Over at, Tavernier just posted the lineup (no dates) for the New York Film Festival.! :)

August 17, 2006 11:00 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Mamma mia. Thanks, Acquarello.
This has me stoked for Toronto by backward extrapolation.
And I'm a big fan of Lino Brocka's Insiang too.

August 17, 2006 11:14 AM  
Blogger girish said...

TIFF announces African and African-Diaspora films.

August 17, 2006 12:39 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Good God, that NYFF lineup sounds amazing.

August 17, 2006 1:14 PM  
Blogger Tom Sutpen said...

Forgive the intrusion, but I have to toss my 50 cents on the bar, as it were:

Imagine it. Two years at the helm, and it doesn't look a day over one. Outstanding work. Here's hoping for at least another 25, Girish.

As Abel Gance used to say: Keep 'em flying!

August 17, 2006 4:46 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Tom, it's not an intrusion, only a pleasure.
Thank you for the kindnesses. They are most appreciated.

August 17, 2006 7:50 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

How on earth did you and acquarello manage to see Insiang? It's Brocka's best, in my opinion, and features the screenplay of one of my favorite Filipino actor-writer-director, Mario O'Hara.

Something I wrote about the film Insiang (Lino Brocka, 1976)

Something I wrote on a 2002 stage version of Insiang, as re-written by Mario O'Hara

August 18, 2006 12:49 AM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

And Mr. Tom Sutpen, AWOL from a_film_by for so many months, what's been keeping you?!

August 18, 2006 12:57 AM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

La Cinémathèque in Paris is running an "introduction to Thai Cinema" in September. Recommendations appreciated so I don't miss the most important films.

August 18, 2006 5:21 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Noel, I saw Insiang in a program devoted to David Overbey at the Toronto filmfest a few years back, along with other films he championed like Hou's Dust In The Wind, Gaspar Noe's Carne, etc. Thanks for posting those links, by the way.

Harry, sometimes I forget what a great film town you live in. I've seen none of those Thai films, but perhaps others will make recommendations.

--Matt asks at The House Next Door: What single movie image or moment do you think of more often than any other?.
--Acquarello on Sokurov's Days of Eclipse.

Planned to post today but it's definitely not happening. Will post Monday instead, as part of Brian's Friz Freleng blog-a-thon.

August 18, 2006 8:18 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks to Eric, a Brian De Palma section at Slant Magazine.

August 18, 2006 2:33 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

You're not into fiction reading, are you, Girish?

August 18, 2006 3:14 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Tuwa, it's odd: I go through periods when I read it a lot and then months when I hardly do at all. (One of those latter periods this summer.) I think I did a short post on him, but the only fiction writer I read fairly steadily, even if it's just re-reading a paragraph or page at a time, is Nabokov. And I guess the two forms of 'fiction' I end up spending most time with are both visually based and non-literary, cinema and indie comics...

August 18, 2006 3:31 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Ah, so you did.

I found an odd Google quirk when searching your site: since the hyphen can be taken as separating two words in an exact phrase, searching for "fiction" on your site turns up many instances of the phrase "non-fiction," which was exactly what I was not looking for.

August 18, 2006 4:54 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Harry, I'm drooling over that list of Thai films, mainly the retrospective ones, as I've never seen a Thai film older than 1997. (I lived in that country in 1999-2000, and at that time finding subtitled classic films was pretty much impossible; in retrospect I wish I'd been more bold about seeing unsubtitled films).

I've particluarly heard good things about the R.D. Pestonji and the Vivhit Kounavudhi films. I've never heard of Sunh Vasudhara, but I'd thrill to get a chance to see a Thai feature fillm that old. The shorts programs would be unmissible too. How much are flights to Paris right now, anyway? (mostly kidding)

I've seen four of the six more recent Thai films on the program. My favorites are Fun Bar Karaoke (Pen-ek Ratanaruang's somewhat Tarantino-esque feature film debit) and Beautiful Boxer (a mainstream but very well-done film on a transgender boxer- Peter recently wrote on it). The Overture and Suriothai are handsomely made (the latter is quite a lavish spectacle) but each has a combination of aesthetic conservatism and humorlessness that dooms them, for me anyway.

As for the other two recent films, I've heard more positive things about Art of the Devil 2 (no need to see Art of the Devil 1, apparantly) than about the Moonhunter.

August 18, 2006 4:55 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Thanks for the help Brian. :)
Yeah the early shorts must be amazing. Mostly newsreel. An a couple of scenes from the very first feature length films that are all destroyed. I really don't know anything (except from Weerasethakul and Pen-ek Ratanaruang), so it will be all new to me.

re: NYFF
I highly recommend Our Daily Bread, a masterpiece of a documentary by the Austrian director Geyrhalter. No commentary at all, only told in long wordless plan-sequence, and we get a lot of subtext from the juxtaposition of these scenes. One of the best film I've seen this year so far.

August 18, 2006 6:09 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Harry, the list of films at TIFF will be announced on Tuesday. I'd love to hear your recommendations on them; I'll do a post on it that day.

August 18, 2006 6:30 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

David Overby tribute? Ah well. He championed Philippine cinema no end in Toronto, but I wasn't happy with some of the filmmakers he chose to champion (and why). Still.

Fun Bar isn't Pen-ek's best, but it's interesting to see one of his earliest works. Nonzee's Nang Nak, on the other hand IS his best I think, but I wouldn't recommend that very strongly. Definitely, go see the older ones.

August 19, 2006 12:25 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

How did I overlook Nang Nak, the first Thai film I ever saw? Anyway, I agree with Noel's take on it and Nonzee.

August 19, 2006 3:05 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Film criticism post+comments at Dr. Mabuse's Kaleido-Scope.

August 19, 2006 9:14 AM  
Blogger girish said...

A fun and wide-ranging avant-garde post from Andy Horbal.

August 19, 2006 12:32 PM  
Blogger HarryTuttle said...

Thank you Noel for the help. I'll try to watch as much as I can.
I'm looking forward to the TIFF line-up Girish, the NYFF will be tough to top.

August 19, 2006 1:41 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Correction: someone reminded me that Nonzee directed Dang Birely and the Young Gangsters. Still a mess, but the premise, based on a true story is strong, and I'd say other than a few scenes of theatrical audacity in Nang Nak, Dang is his best work. Might even go out of my way--say, twenty miles--to watch it. But no more.

Sure thing, Harry. If you're in NY, please, watch Insiang (then read my article. Nthe other way around!).

August 19, 2006 4:01 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Luckily, I only had to go down the street from my house to see Dang Bireley and the Young Gangsters when it played as part of an Asian Film Festival at Frank Lee's Four Star Theatre a couple years ago. I was excited to fill my Nonzee gap and to see the film that, in most histories I've read, launched the current wave of resurgant Thai cinema (at least in terms of homegrown box office). But it was more interesting than good. Nang Nak is at least a little more cohesive, if unambitious.

August 19, 2006 4:34 PM  
Blogger RC said...

what a great story, and it's neat that you posted that 1st sketch, i hope there are more to come.

--RC of

August 20, 2006 2:53 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

A fine, fine post, as always. Congrats on the anniversary and may many more follow. (Of course.)

August 22, 2006 7:11 PM  
Blogger James said...

You might want to check out the Toronto student off-campus housing page.

It is from Ontario Tenants Rights which has lots of useful information.

September 25, 2006 12:27 PM  

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